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10 thoughts on “Northwest of Normal

  1. Scott Carles Scott Carles says:

    I read lots of stories where the characters lead lives far removed from my experiences They have problems I have never had and probably never will Yet I empathized with them at some level How does an author do thatOne way is by creating characters that have traits and behaviors that the reader admires or relates to Even when a character has weaknesses or problems if the reader admires some of their traits they will cheer for them to succeed forgive them when they make mistakes and cry for them when things turn sourAndy the main character in the book Northwest of Normal has few traits I found admirable In fact I can only think of one he loves the place he lives Ipsyniho Oregon a bohemian backwoods town After a major setback with his girlfriend who decides to marry his best friend Andy runs away from something he should have cleared the air with these two which sets the stage for his return after 14 months so that he can resolve this problem But somehow the place and people he loves have dramatically changed And importantly he doesn’t have the guts to face his problems in a reasonable mannerThe author makes the attempt to have Andy seem like he’s really struggling to do what’s right but he just comes across as a whining irresponsible juvenile even though he’s in his 30’s I think I just never really got to the point that I cared much about Andy or whether he solved his problems or not By page 60 I’d come up with a list of potential themes I thought the book might explore over the remaining pages relationshipsfriendship betrayalfamilyplacegrowing upfacing conseuencesThese are some pretty big themes and for a book of only 234 pages it would be hard to adeuately cover all of them in sufficient depth to do each theme justice More about that in a minuteAs Andy works through problems related to these themes since he doesn’t really have any traits I found admirable I just can’t “cheer” “forgive” or “cry” over his choices I just want to give him a dope slap and tell him to grow up I understand that sometimes an author actually creates a character like this and that is an acceptable way to portray a character But then there has to be something in the rest of the book where the character changes or events are such that you understand why the author created such a characterBut the anticlimax just seemed too rushed to really resolve this problem with the main character I especially found the resolutions to the problems relating to the themes to be rushed Once the climax was reached the resolutions to Andy’s problems seemed to come in rapid succession based on a checklist the author had “OK Andy has this problem let’s take care of it in these 6 pages Done Next problem in the following 8 pages Check” and so on until he covered them all It was dissatisfying to meThe best thing the book probably has going for it is its portrayal of the guide’s life some aspects of steelheading and life in parts of Oregon Since I have no experience with any of those three things I can only assume that Larison does an adeuate job of portraying these aspects since he has personal experience in all three areas I especially thought he did a great job with the psyche and lingo of guides and their clientsAnother aspect of the writing that bothered me was that it seemed at times that the characters participated in events as if this were an informational piece about what a place or people might be like However events alone don’t make a story How those events affect the characters and how the characters react to them and how the reader reacts to the characters are all important considerations as well And those connections just didn’t happen for meI also noticed in a few spots where it seemed the characters were a little unnatural in fact a bit didactic as if certain background information was needed by the reader so the author provided it in the form of one of the characters speaking about itPot makes a freuent appearance in the book By about page 100 I made this note “I’m not sure of the purpose of all the pot If it was left out of the story would it change the story” In other words I was wondering what the point of all the pot smoking was for Come to find out it is an important part of the plot As a side note there is a group called NORML The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws I’m wondering if there was a deliberate play on words with the title since Oregon does have rich history with marijuanaI’m always a bit leery of writing negative reviews for fear of wondering if I know what the heck I’m talking about And this book gave me extra pause for a couple of reasons One is that Larison teaches writing at Oregon State University One would certainly think that a university writing teacher would have the skills to pull off a novel And another concern was that the back cover of the book contains praise from the following three people David James Duncan I’m a big fan Tom Bie editor of The Drake fly fishing mag and Ted Leeson I’m a huge fan of his writing who says that this is a “skillfully told story” A bit of disclosure Ted Leeson teaches English at Oregon State University Who in the world am I to disagree with these fly fishing and writing luminaries That’s the thing about reviews everybody’s experience is different In the end I can just give my impressions Each person has to make their own choice as to whether they will read the bookFor those of you who are steelheaders guides or anglers who freuent Oregon's Willamette area you will probably like this book than those who don't fit at least one of those categories If your fiction tastes are simple—you like uick easy reads with simple characters and plot—you might like this tooA last note Being Larison’s first novel I’m hoping that he continues to write fly fishing fiction and continues to improve because I do think he has some potential to be a much better fiction author I think removing some of the themes could have helped solve some of the main problems I had with the book or making it longer to do each theme justice

  2. David David says:

    I read this book because it was favorably compared to David J Duncan's The River Why which I thoroughly enjoyed and think is a great book even for non fishersThis book however fell uite short of the high bar set by DuncanThe best thing about this book are the author's descriptions of the setting the river and it's streamside ecology blackberries included and the funky town in which it is set and it's typical cast of characters The scenes with fishing involved are pretty good too as the author is a salmon fly fisherman and reading them felt like being in the boatAs far as being a novel this book fell flat There was little character development none of the characters were very sympathetic the plot was fairly predictable and he is far too blunt in driving home themes of man's destruction to nature

  3. Stacy Bearse Stacy Bearse says:

    I love fly fishing I love the Oregon rural lifestyle And I loved this novel With steelhead fly fishing as a backdrop NORTHWEST OF NORMAL is a saga of a deep friendship corroded by anger and betrayal At the core of the story is a complex relationship between two male fishing guides and the woman who spurned one angler to marry the other The characters are torn by feelings of regret and by big lies that nibble away at their souls Eventually the lies surface and the plot explodes The powerful and fictional Ipsyniho river is at the heart of the story and serves as a reminder that truth like water will always prevail

  4. Elizabeth Elizabeth says:

    Not as good as Holding Lies but still good I appreciated getting the back story on Danny a character I particularly liked in HL Larison is very good at putting you inside a particular person's reality their body and their perspective and their frustrations with their own various limitations and good with the timing of his reveals Most of all I appreciate the richness of the language that flows with the same beauty and grace as his beloved Ipsyniho River

  5. Luke K. Luke K. says:

    The story is a fairly generic love triangle but the author does a great job of weaving the region and the passions of the characters into a complete story about love and growing older A good read for anyone seems angled at those of us in between responsibilities and expectations

  6. Ron Patch Ron Patch says:

    Great story

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Northwest of Normal ➸ Northwest of Normal Free ➮ Author John Larison – Set in the uirky mountain town of Ipsyniho Oregon a community of artists loggers dope growers and river guides Northwest of Normal is the humorous story of one village reinventing the American dream A Set in the uirky mountain town of Ipsyniho Oregon a community of artists loggers dope growers and river guides Northwest of Normal is the humorous story of one village reinventing the American dream Andy Trib is a troubled fly fishing guide returning to his hometown of Ipsyniho after a year on the run He embarks on a uest to repair his life's greatest sin the betrayal of his surrogate brother Danny Goodman Andy's uest will end in a staggering act of violence Northwest of Kindle - one that will endanger everything he holds dear.

  • Hardcover
  • 234 pages
  • Northwest of Normal
  • John Larison
  • English
  • 21 March 2015
  • 9781936008018

About the Author: John Larison

JOHN L A R I SON spent much ofhis childhood in remote regions of Australiathe Caribbean Canada the South PacificAlaska and the American West before graduatingfrom high school in Ithaca New York Hestudied philosophy and literature at the Universityof Oregon and became a renowned flyfishingguide ahead of earning an MFA fromOregon State University where he stayed toteach while writing Whiske.